Branding your app: making the most of a small screen
Long gone are the times when having a mobile app was a “nice to have” added extra, reserved for big brands with bucketloads of budget. The past few years have seen a meteoric rise in app usage across all sectors, and they are now a key element in business communication.
The challenge (well, one of them) when building an app for any client is how to capture the distilled essence of your business – your brand – and express it with integrity in such a minuscule screen space.
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On the surface, a brand is a logo, a tagline, typography, colour palette, and any number of additional physical components. That’s the ‘look’ part covered, but we’re still missing a whole lot of ‘feels’. A brand is also the lifestyle it represents: how it speaks to its customers (language), how it interacts (tone), and its sense of personality (movement and sound).
Given all this, you might be thinking that capturing a brand in an app is a challenge somewhat akin to summarising War and Peace in a tweet. You might be right, but it can be done.
What’s our process?
The most successful apps are a seamless extension of their online and offline brands. Space is the key challenge, yes, but it is precisely because the screen area is so small that it must be branded to perfection. So, how do we ensure that a client’s brand is not only captured, but also safeguarded during the app creation process?
Because we work co-creatively, each project is slightly different. Some clients have their own UX designers and our role in branding becomes more of a technical advisory one. With others we take the helm in representing the brand throughout. Whatever the balance, our key creative challenge in any project is how to retain brand integrity whilst making sure that the user experience remains at the forefront of every design decision.
What elements of the app are branded?
An app may be small, but in every single frame, movement, menu and swipe, the brand must shine through.
The technical challenge of resizing an iconic logo for the small screen is well documented. Retaining proportions, details and recognition in such a tiny area is a skill – which is why new businesses should strive for a ‘mobile-first’ approach to brand design from the outset. Success stories include Google, who reduced their iconic logo into a simplified ‘G’ for mobile users without compromising on their signature four colour identity. A caveat to the contrary from Instagram: if your brand is known and loved, change it at your peril.
The key to a solid brand experience, whatever the platform, is consistency. We work with you to ensure the ‘feel’ of your brand remains constant across all customer touchpoints, driving trust and loyalty.
An app user’s first impression is always visual, but get the language wrong and the overall experience will jar. Don’t talk to your audience in a different tone than you would do in any other medium – apart from being more succinct, that is. Even highly visual apps with minimal text need to ensure that all external descriptors – from the app store (ASO), to the welcome screen, and FAQs – are written with your core audience in mind.
Structure & Movement
Branding impacts every movement: the loading screen, speed and sound of menu selections, transition timings, push messaging and more. Yes, these things are fundamentally about making the app easier to use, but UX and brand cohesion are of equal importance. Minute adjustments can mean the difference between targeting an older or younger demographic.
the best app experiences are often the simplest…
Structure, too, is a key consideration. The arrangement of icons, menu bar or navigation tools can be used to reflect a client’s brand or space. When working with The Jewish Museum, a simple yet effective colour coded structure was used to reference the colours of the exhibition boards within the museum. Proving that the best app experiences are often the simplest, this low-tech solution seamlessly translated an indoor, place-specific brand onto the small screen, with stunning results.
What do we need from you?
It certainly makes the process smoother when you know your brand inside out: basic guidelines are great, style manuals are fabulous. Some clients bring us a stand-out piece of marketing literature: anything that communicates your brand can be used as a starting point for translating onto the small screen. If the app is location-based, our designer may conduct a site visit, taking inspiration from the physical surroundings and natural environment.
We work with a lot of heritage organisations who, under one main umbrella brand, may host a number of location-based micro brands. While partnering with the National Trust for their app Soho Stories, we balanced the complex interplay between the values of trust and tradition of the National Trust brand, with the youthful rebellion inherent in Soho’s vibrant history.
Your app is a fundamental part of your brand story, and any good app development agency will work with you to ensure your business and brand goals are in constant alignment. Throughout the build process, the key questions we refer back to are: Is it reliable? Is it beautiful? Is it intuitive? And, more importantly, is it a true extension of the brand’s values?